I felt like playing a really good RPG, but it should set itself apart from the usual fantasy cliches. So, no orcs, elves, dwarves or the usual suspects. It should be something dark, with depth and, if possible, no utopian setting. After reducing my extensive collection of role playing games down to five candidates the winner was Fallout – a post apocalyptic role playing game.
The background can be summarized in a nutshell like this: in Fallout, America got more or less stuck in the 50s as far as culture and technology is concerned. Cars have a nuclear engine, yet they look like coming from the 50s. Computers also rely on good old vacuum tubes, even in the year 2077! Rushing for the last remaining resources the USA, Russia and China become more and more aggressive until they are de facto at war. All of the major powers fire their nuclear weapons at each other and humanities fate seems to be sealed. Blooming landscapes get turned into dust. Fauna and flora go through increasingly wilder mutations and the few humans who survived the disaster have to fight for plain survival day after day.
The player on the other hand has led a comfortable life so far, in one of a couple of vaults for which more privileged people were able to buy some space. But that is coming to an end. In the year 2161, so 84 years after World War III, the water purification control chip breaks down. A new one is urgently needed, because the vault’s reserves hold water for only 150 days. I guess I do not have to tell you who is going to be assigned to this noble task. Still I was kind of surprised that I landed right in front of the amazingly thick vault doors which where immediately closed behind me, with just one hint about the whereabouts of the nearest vault. But fortunately right next to the entrance lies a rather luckless wanderer too, who leaves me his pistol and knife. Off we go!
From now on the player has absolute freedom of action. Do you want to go right to vault 15, like suggested, or do you want to drop by in Shady Sands on your way there? Or maybe you want to go in a different direction altogether? Maybe you want to rest for a couple of days in the hope that the vault doors will open up again? Everything is possible, though not all of it might make sense. No later than standing with a smallish pistol in front of a towering super mutant with a laser gatling gun, you come to realise that your choices might not have led you along the best path. Or did it? You do not have to fight each and every enemy after all. With the right abilities and skills you can solve some conflicts without resorting to violence.
None of the seven primary abilities (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck) are useless. It is up to the player whether he prefers a strong melee fighter or an intelligent diplomat. Each of the 16 skills is well-conceived, too. They range from such classic skills like lock picking or stealth up to well versed speeches, which open up additional dialogue options. On top of that, you can chose two from 16 special traits at the beginning. They are purely optional, though, because they have a positive as well as a negative effect. For example: if you pick "Fast Metabolism" you healing rate of bodily harms is increased, but you also have to put up with a radiation and poison resistance of 0%. And if you still want more, you can pick one of 53 so called perks every three levels. A perk is another bonus. Their selection ranges from simple bonuses to certain weapons up to "flower child" which keeps the player from getting addicted to medicine and drugs all too fast.
This might sound kind of complicated right now, but actually it is not. Most of the perks need some basic requirements in certain attributes, so you do not get to see all of the 53 at once. Levelling up is no trouble at all, because you can only increase your 16 skills. The attributes are fixed for the whole game. There are only very rare occasions during the story in which you can make changes to them. So, you should give a couple of thoughts to what kind of character you wish to play before you start playing.
Fallout's graphics are surprisingly rich in variety even with all the destruction that took place. There are wrecked cars and computer terminals all around. Knowledge about their maintenance has been lost long ago and only a handful of people are actually able to repair those things, let alone built them from scratch. The world has literally been thrown back into the stone age after the third world war. Merchants travel around in caravans in order to trade. The accepted currency are bottle caps and some kind of mutated cows pull former high tech vehicles. Everything is rather broken and hostile bandits or mutants hang around every corner. It is very atmospheric and offers lots of opportunities for adventure.
Which brings me to one of my few points of criticisms about the game. The quest log is a disaster! It might sort all of the quests according to their location, but that is it. You do not get more than a short summary of the task you have to accomplish. So, it is advisable to take your own notes about who gave you the quest and where you might find them later on. The game’s automap is a somewhat poor help, too. You should memorise where to find all those people, otherwise you will have problems finding your quest givers.
Another flaw are the party members you pick up during your adventures. At first they are rather helpful, because you are not able to defeat stronger or multiple enemies on your own. This makes it rather easy to forgive them firing their SMGs right into your back, when missing their targets. He also helped you often enough after all. Yet those helpers, of which you will grow fond, will turn into mobile containers later on. You cannot chose their equipment, they do not gain levels and the player has no control over them. Each one of those points is a big disadvantage. They do not have a lot to say, either, and so they were doomed to eventually carry my surplus items around. I parked them via dialogue before bigger fights, so they would not get one-shot right to the ground, and picked them up afterwards. I would have expected more from them.
Which brings us to Fallout's combat system: contrary to the rest of the game, fights take place in turns. Each character has a certain amount of action points and each action costs a certain amount of points. There are dozens of weapons for each type. From melee over small guns up to heavy weaponry like rocket launchers. Each one of them with various kinds of ammunition of course. Several armours and gadgets like the mobile stealth emitter belong to the various items, too. Naturally your own abilities have a big influence on the fights, too. At first you will have problems even with simply hitting things which are more than a stone's throw away. If you specialise in one or two weapon skills, though, you progress up to a point were you can hit a rat's eye from up to 200 feet away. This can be taken quite literally! The player can aim at different regions of his current enemies body, which makes it harder to hit but also increases your chance of a critical. If you want to make use of this feature, you will have to watch out at your character's creation never to take the trait "fast shot", because this will disable aiming.
From a technical point of view Fallout does not cause that much trouble. I played it in DOSBox, although it supports Windows 95. An installation with compatibility mode should be no trouble at all. There were still a couple of crashes though. But since you should save often and in different slots, because you might wish to give in to the temptation to rethink a couple of choices, those should be no trouble, either.
Fallout is one of the most atmospheric role playing games I ever played. Although it has a couple of flaws concerning the companions and usability, I had a lot of fun. Lots of quests and equipment, memorable places and a gloomy vision of the future which gives the player the choice whether he wants to be good, evil or rather something in between. Each of the bigger choices you make has its consequences on the game’s world. The game even creates a personalised ending, depending on the decisions you made during the game. Lots of replayability is guaranteed.
Fallout offers something for everybody. Role players will love the unusual setting, the excellent character system and the high degree of freedom. Turn based strategy fans get some tough fights even at the moderate difficulty setting. If you like both genres, like me, you cannot give this one a pass.
Translated by Herr M.